A Facebook friend posted an essay her son had written for homeschool. The essay provides a brief history of the Reformation. It is well written. My friend was proud and she had reason to be. As a teacher I was impressed by the economy and clarity in the boy's writing.
My friend is, herself, a really good writer, and she has a story to tell. I have urged her to write a memoir. If there were any justice in the world, her memoir would find a publisher right quick and it would inspire and entertain many.
Her son's history of the Reformation is one page long. It is four paragraphs. The first sentence: corruption in the Catholic Church. The second sentence: corruption in the Catholic Church. The bulk of the first paragraph: details supporting the claim of corruption in the Catholic Church.
Second paragraph: Martin Luther. A bare bones bio. Third paragraph: the pope excommunicates Martin Luther. Fourth paragraph: Martin Luther translates the Bible and founds the Lutheran Church abrupt and final full stop. Capital T The Capital E End.
I learn a lot from Facebook. Facebook friend Magdalena Paśnikowska told me once that "what is not said is as important as what is said." She said this in the context of a discussion of censorship, including censorship in the old Soviet Empire.
Schoolboys aren't Soviet-grade censors. But schoolboys know where to put that abrupt and final full stop, and to leave the bottom twenty percent of the assignment page completely blank.
After I read this schoolboy's essay three times, I walked to work. My mind could not help but fill in the rest of the page.
Yes, the Catholic Church was corrupt. It was then and it is now.
But there's a bit more to the story of the Reformation.
My guestimate of a key statistic: most Protestants in the world today are Protestant not because of the genuinely admirable desire to address corruption in the Church, but because one of history's most odious figures.
Henry the VIII was a fat – a fifty-two-inch waist – madman who murdered his own wives. Henry VIII wanted to dump his first wife in order to marry his mistress, and the Catholic Church told him not to.
Divorce wasn't about choices and liberation. It was about older, divorced women being reduced to begging social outcasts. The Church wanted men to respect and provide for the women they married even after they lost their youthful glow. Henry didn't want to respect and provide for Catherine because she was barren – certainly no fault of her own.
Historians depict Henry's mistress, Anne Boleyn, as sexually hot, and either a manipulator or a victim of manipulation. Before his passion for Anne, Henry VIII was one of the great champions and defenders of Catholicism, and he still believed in key Catholic tenets after he worked to destroy Catholicism in England and establish Protestantism there. Henry burned, looted, and murdered. In another context, his actions against the Church might be called a genocide.
I often think about converting to Episcopalianism. I like it that women can become priests. And then I catch myself – do I really want to be a member of a church founded by a lustful, hypocritical, murderous, genocidal fatso? Nah.
Returning to the schoolboy's essay on the Reformation. In these four paragraphs of elegant and spare prose, Martin Luther is a courageous reformer. Full stop.
When I think of Martin Luther, I think about his writings on Jews, and the impact of those writings. Wikipedia lists what Luther recommended regarding Jews:
- for Jewish synagogues and schools to be burned to the ground, and the remnants buried out of sight;
- for houses owned by Jews to be likewise razed, and the owners made to live in agricultural outbuildings;
- for their religious writings to be taken away;
- for rabbis to be forbidden to preach, and to be executed if they do;
- for safe conduct on the roads to be abolished for Jews;
- for usury to be prohibited, and for all silver and gold to be removed and "put aside for safekeeping"; and
- for the Jewish population to be put to work as agricultural slave laborers (Source)
The notorious Nazi propaganda film "Jud Suss" quotes Luther, "set fire to their synagogues or schools and bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them." "Jud Suss" was routinely screened for Nazis about to go on a raid against Jews.
Not just in relation to Jews, Luther's speech was violent. He insulted people in hateful ways. There is an internet site where one can press an icon in order to be insulted by Martin Luther. (Here)
Luther used much scatological language. That is, he talked about rectums, feces, and outhouses a lot. He said that the Holy Spirit unveiled the Bible to him while he was relieving himself. Luther said he could chase Satan away with his flatulence. When he was near death, Luther said, "I’m like a ripe stool, and the world’s like a gigantic anus, and so we’re about to let go of each other."
The Lutheran Church is not named after God or Christ or Love or Truth. It's named after Martin Luther, an anti-Semitic, hateful man obsessed with feces.
The Reformation, in the schoolboy's essay, is all about reading the Bible in the vernacular and not selling indulgences.
The Reformation was also significantly about war. Kings decided to convert, and their conversions meant that they dragged their people into war. I don't know if anyone has a death toll count, but Wikipedia lists the wars here.
Here's a pretty typical paragraph describing a king's conversion, followed by resistance, followed by imprisonment of Catholics, state confiscation of church property, and the immediate enrichment of the state:
"In 1524, King Christian II converted to Lutheranism and encouraged Lutheran preachers to enter Denmark despite the opposition of the Danish diet … war broke out between Catholic followers of Count Christoph of Oldenburg, and the firmly Lutheran Count Christian of Holstein. After losing his main support in Lübeck, Christoph quickly fell to defeat … Lutheranism was immediately established, the Catholic bishops were imprisoned, and monastic and church lands were soon confiscated to pay for the armies that had brought Christian to power. In Denmark this increased royal revenues by 300%."
Royal arrogance, bloodlust, power, and filthy lucre were as much the appeal of the Reformation as the Bible in the vernacular.
There was another dreadful effect of the Reformation not alluded to in the schoolboy's essay. Historian Lyndal Roper says that the chaos and societal breakdown caused by the Reformation played a big role in the witch craze that took so many lives of innocents, especially older women but men, too.
The Protestant obsession with conquering corruption lead to a different form of madness and sin than that found in the Vatican. While popes certainly had ermines, wine, and mistresses, Protestants went too far in the other direction. Their push for purity created corrupt societies like that critiqued in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." This is why the word "puritanical" is not a compliment.
There's another thing left unsaid in that history of the Reformation. During that century, that the Catholic Church was so very corrupt, Catholicism gave us spiritual giants like Thomas More, Desiderius Erasmus, Bartolome de las Casas, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, Paulo Miki, Ignatius Loyola, Rose of Lima, Juan Diego and Margaret Clitherow. No history of Christianity would be complete withouty of those names. These are the fruits of the admittedly corrupt Catholic Church.
Don't get me wrong. I also dislike corruption. I think most sane, mainstream Catholics think that selling indulgences and not translating the Bible into the vernacular were mistakes. Reform is good. It is often a vexed debate whether to get along and go along, or throw the baby out with the bathwater. Had I lived in those times, I would have been as confused as I am now.
I just wish that my Protestant friends would fill out that bottom twenty percent of the page that is left blank. I just wish that as they celebrate Luther and the Reformation, that they acknowledged important and obvious facts about who Luther was and what the full, very heavy cost of the Reformation was.
I wish that Protestants would acknowledge that the urge for perfection is itself a sin that kills and maims. We are human. We will never be perfect. We will never be part of non-corrupt institutions. Every Protestant church is every bit as corrupt as the Catholic Church.
The push for purity is itself a sin. It drives us to obsess on flaws and miss the larger picture. Rose of Lima managed to do the amazing amount of the good that she did in spite of the flaws in the church.
Yes, I admire Luther's reform, and all the reformers. I know the Church was corrupt. I think this is all very complex. If nothing else, I would have liked to have seen that sentence on the bottom, blank, twenty percent of the page: "this is all very complex."
I also wish that Protestants would get over their prejudices against Catholics. I've been Catholic all my life and I've never heard a single Catholic talk about Protestants the way that Protestants routinely slander and obsess on us. This is NOT a comment about my Facebook friend's son's essay. It's a comment about the Catholic-bashing I often encounter among Protestants, in real life and on the web.
In other news: a Facebook friend posted a link to a blog post by Walid Shoebat. Apparently Mr. Shoebat is also tired of Catholic bashing among protestants. That blog post is entitled "Them 'Damned' Catholics" and you can access it here.
|Anti Catholic Jack Chick pamphlet|
|Many Protestants refer to the Catholic Church as the "Whore of Babylon"|